Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (PhD from University of St Andrews)
Areas of Interest/Research:
Luke-Acts, Ancient Historiography, Empire Studies, Pauline Theology, Second Temple Judaism, Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics
What is it about your field that you love researching?
First, thanks for allowing me to do this; I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce myself to some new people, even though I am perhaps on the edge of the early career category, depending on how you want to count it (I graduated in 2017 but am just now completing my first year of real employment). Regarding my field, I can’t think of anything that I would rather do than study the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of complicated, fascinating literature centered on what I consider to be the most important events and the most important person in all of human history. The fact that studying these documents and the world around them can be a career is amazing, and I am indescribably grateful for all that I have learned from my colleagues in the field. I find myself constantly challenged to read texts more closely, to reconsider them from new angles, and, because I am a Christian, to live in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers more faithfully.
What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?
I don’t think that there is one big idea that shines through in the work that I have published thus far other than that the New Testament needs to be read in its historical context, and this requires careful consideration of the relevant primary sources. Nevertheless, one big idea that I hope to communicate over the course of my career is that the New Testament is meant to inform the life of the church not only in its explicit commands and teachings but also in the patterns of thought and judgment that it contains. In the New Testament, God did not give us a one-size-fits-all blueprint for the life of the church in all eras; he gave us the foundational stories of Jesus and his earliest followers and a collection of letters that address particular problems and issues in first-century Christian communities. These letters are often read as if their direct teachings and moral instructions are both all we need and all they have to offer, but I believe that they are actually more like case studies meant to teach us the wisdom of how to think through particular situations and issues in the light of what God has done in Christ by looking at them along the trajectories of different biblical themes.
What is your current research about?
I am currently working as a research assistant for Professor Florian Wilk, and I spend most of my time reading about the use of the Old Testament in the Corinthian letters. Outside of my responsibilities for Professor Wilk, most of my year has been spent improving my German. In January I will begin a two-year Humboldt Fellowship, and I will be looking into the ways in which Paul’s discussions of justification in Romans draw on and are influenced by the theme of the servant of the Lord from the book of Isaiah.
Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?
If you limit me to one, I will probably name N. T. Wright. He has an incredible research program to tackle the big questions of Christian origins with a sophisticated but comprehensible and reasonable methodological approach. He was also my doctoral supervisor, and, despite publishing unbelievable amounts of work, he was quick with correspondence, shockingly available, and as delightful and lively in person as he is in his public appearances. Although I disagree with his conclusions here and there (as my publications show), his work always provokes thought, and overall it has proved to be quite nourishing to my faith.
Others whom I would like to mention include D. A. Carson (I have always been impressed by his judicious reasoning), John Barclay (he does an amazing job at using a variety of methodologies drawn from different fields in a way that is genuinely illuminating, and who even knew that we needed such a study on the topic of grace?), Loren Stuckenbruck (it is hard to find a kinder person among the top ranked scholars in the field), Scott Hafemann (if more people had the kind of integrity that Dr. Hafemann has, the world would be a much better place), and Grant Macaskill (I am always particularly struck by his ability to reflect on the various disciplines that go into study of the New Testament at a meta-level).
What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?
First, I would name N. T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series (really every scholarly book he has written), but especially Jesus and the Victory of God and the methodology section in The New Testament and the People of God. In NTPG, Wright sets forth the well-formulated questions that drive his research and also provides some very helpful reflections on hermeneutics. JVG illuminated for me the issues that need to be considered in thinking about who the historical person of Jesus really was and what he thought he was trying to do. Wright’s efforts to root his reading of the New Testament in the context of the realities of life and movements in the ancient world has deeply marked my approach to the discipline.
Second, two books by Richard B. Hays have been foundational to my thinking: Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul had a large impact on my thinking about how New Testament authors read the Jewish Scriptures, and his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament is a great treatment of ethics that effectively demonstrates how the New Testament goes about moral reasoning in a way that centers on the message of the gospel.
Finally, Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine is an outstanding book about theological method and the role of theology in the life of the church. One of the reasons this book is so important for me, however, is that I got the strong impression that what Vanhoozer says should be happening in theology today is precisely what is happening in the New Testament: the authors are providing direction for the church by teaching Christians to look at their present circumstances along the trajectories of Scripture and through the gospel of Christ.
Do you have any publications we can showcase?
The Writings of Luke and the Jewish Roots of the Christian Way: An Examination of the Aims of the First Christian Historian in the Light of Ancient Politics, Ethnography, and Historiography. LNTS 599. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2019.
“N. T. Wright and Justification Revisited: A Contrarian Perspective.” Pages 440–465 in One God, One People, One Future: Essays in Honour of N.T. Wright. Edited by John Anthony Dunne and Eric Lewellen. London: SPCK, 2018.
“The Curse of the Law, the Covenant, and Anthropology in Galatians 3:10–14: An Examination of Paul’s Use of Deuteronomy 27:26.” Journal of Biblical Literature 139.1 (2020): 211–229.
“A Tale of Two Antiquities: A Fresh Evaluation of the Relationship between the Ancient Histories of T. Flavius Josephus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.” Journal for the Study of Judaism 49.4 (2018): 475–497.
“The Legal Significance of Christ’s Risen Life: Union with Christ and Justification in Galatians 2.17–20.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 40.4 (2018): 453–472.
Where can we follow you online?
If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?
I can’t imagine not wanting to talk about the New Testament, but I also enjoy learning about other people’s passions, whatever they might be. Topics where I might have more to say include my family, movies (especially superheroes or Star Wars), serial dramas, U2, fitness/bodybuilding, and church life. Fair warning: I am extroverted but shy, which means that if I don’t know you well, I will really enjoy speaking with you but you may feel like you are carrying the whole conversation.
What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
As I mentioned above, I am currently gearing up for my Humboldt Fellowship on justification and the Isaianic servant in Romans. I am also always in the process of developing new writing projects for the future, and some current ideas include: a study on the intended audience of ancient historiographical works; a broad study of the theme of the unity of the church in the New Testament; a collaborative project on ancient Jewish soteriologies; and a full-scale study of justification in Paul. We will see how many of these projects ultimately materialize, but I am excited about all of them.
>> Thank you so much, Dr. Cowan, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.
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